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The Extra Pass: Talking Blazers, Clippers, coaching with Bill and Luke Walton

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Portland Trail Blazers fans are not fair weathered. They have stuck with the franchise through some dark times. Now they are being rewarded — with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard leading the way, Portland fans are getting to witness some of the best, most entertaining basketball Rip City has seen in more than a decade.

Consider Trail Blazer legend and Hall of Famer Bill Walton one of those happy fans.

The big red head is around the game again, having gotten past the back issues that literally had him on the floor for years, and through it all  his passion for the game never died — and it is still infectious.

As is his love for Portland and his plaid-pants wearing coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title with Walton as the star.

“There’s nothing like pride,” Bill Walton told ProBasketballTalk. “I played my best basketball ever for the Portland Trail Blazers…

“So many memories, all the guys I’m still really close to. Whenever you’re part of something special, you always come back to the relationships, the personalities…

“(Coach Dr.) Jack Ramsey, he made me the best player that I ever was. His ability to take me to destinations and in directions I never even really thought were possible it was incredible. And what he did, his vision for putting the team together, we were incredibly lucky in that we had guys like Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Bob Gross.

“And we had the Blazer maniacs. Oh my gosh did they ever make it fun…”

The elder Walton and his son Luke have teamed up with Teleflora for their NBA “Send & Score” Sweepstakes — send Valentines day flowers and you and earn a chance to win a VIP trip to attend an NBA Playoff game, NBA gear and more.

Bill thinks there could be ample opportunities to attend Clippers playoff games this season — that’s another team he played for, both when they were in San Diego and when they first move to Los Angeles.

“It’s so fantastic,” Bill said of the Clippers run of success. “I’m just so thrilled for Ralph Lawler, Mr. Clipper, the voice of the Clippers. What a great friend, Ralph has taught me so much. It’s just been incredible to see what Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul… It’s great to see what’s happening with the Clippers because the fans are so deserving and have been waiting for so long.”

What do the Clippers need to get over the top in a brutal West?

“I think trading for Doc Rivers in the off-season was big because he’s a championship coach,” said Luke, who is now an assistant coach for the D-Fenders of the D-League plus is a studio analyst for the Lakers. “He knows what it takes, he will put the confidence in the players come playoff time. Just with another year of going through the playoffs like they did last year, I think they automatically get better off that. And I think Doc could have been that missing piece to take them over the top.”

“It’s all about culture,” Bill added. “There’s never been a great player, a great team, a great organization without a great leader. Doc Rivers has proven to be that championship leader to get the guys to sacrifice for the team, because you’re never going to get it done on the big scale. If you want to score and you want to be the champion and if you want to make it all happen, you have to get guys willing to sacrifice.”

Both of the Waltons played for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen — Bill played for six Hall of Fame coaches from John Wooden at UCLA through Ramsey and others, while Luke was with Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Those experiences mean both think coaching is key to really winning in the NBA.

“I think it’s huge,” Luke said. “The NBA is full of the best players in the world, so what coach can get those guys to play hard, to play together, to play for each other, that’s what really makes a good coach a great coach. And I think Doc Rivers is one of those guys.”

“It’s all about the love that from a somebody who can make guys believe there is a bigger picture here,” Bill added.

He’s not a coach, but Bill’s cup is still overflowing with the love of the game. It’s just great to have him back around the game, talking hoops. And Portland.

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Pacers 89, Hawks 85: The first half of this was tight, but a lot of the Hawks’ success was fueled by the 14 Pacers turnovers before the break. After the break the Pacers locked down the Hawks — Atlanta shot 30 percent in the third — plus Indy the pace took care of the ball (five second half turnovers), and with that pulled away. David West had nine of this 22 in the third, and Paul George added 18. Mike Scott had 11 of his team-high 15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t near enough. By the way, Lance Stephenson took a nasty third quarter fall and did not return, however it does not appear to be serious. Which is good news.

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: So the return of Steve Nash to the lineup did not help the Lakers’ defense. Who knew? This is 15 consecutive games the Lakers have given up 100 or more and Minnesota put their foot on the gas early with 38 points in the first quarter, led by 14 from Kevin Martin (who had 31 for the game). Minny led by 25 in the second quarter and while a couple times in the fourth the Lakers got it to single digits this was never in doubt. Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Ricky Rubio dished out 17 assists. It was good to see Nash back on the court and he dished out nine assists plus hit three of six shots in 24 minutes. Steve Blake returned also and played 32 minutes, had zero points and ruptured an eardrum (but will continue traveling with the team).

Bulls 101, Suns 92: Chicago was able to do what Indiana wasn’t — grind down to the Suns and put their offense in quicksand. At least for a half, but it was enough. The Bulls played good transition defense, they guarded the arc well (the Suns were just 8-of-28 from three) and they scored efficiently enough to remove a lot of running opportunities for Phoenix. The Bulls did a lot of that damage in the first half, but when the Suns came out on a 13-4 run early in the second it felt like they could sprint past Chicago. They didn’t thanks to strong quarters from Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, then D.J Augustin had 9 points off the bench in the fourth quarter as the Bulls answered every Suns run. Goran Dragic had 24 points to lead the Suns.

Bobcats 91, Warriors 75: Golden State’s offense hasn’t been as good as you’d expect this season and of late it’s been a mess — in their last five games the Warriors are shooting below 40 percent as a team. That reached a new low against a strong Bobcats defense Tuesday, with Golden State scoring just 75 points on 32 percent shooting. Stephen Curry was 1-of-7 from three, David Lee 3-of-13 overall. Al Jefferson was a beast inside with 30 points on the night to lead Charlotte.

Sixers’ Ben Simmons has clean scan on foot, “recovery progressing as expected”

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There is no timetable for Ben Simmons to step into the Philadelphia lineup, and the Sixers don’t want to put one on him. He’ll play when he plays, but the Sixers are rightfully going to take it slow and think long term with a guy coming off a Jones fracture in his foot.

That said, we could see him next month after the All-Star break. Maybe it will be March. But he seems to be on course to return this season.

Philly has won seven of their last 10, Joel Embiid looks like a franchise cornerstone, and after his impressive Summer League everyone wants to see what Simmons and Embiid look like together. Including coach Brett Brown. We’re impatient.

The Sixers are not. Nor should they be. We can see how they are handling things with Embiid still being on a minutes restriction and not playing back-to-backs — Philly is thinking about the team it could have in three or four years, not the one it has in March. Philly is not a playoff team this season, no need to push things.

However, with this latest clean bill of health, it looks promising Simmons will play this season.

Dwyane Wade says rest of Bulls season will influence his decision on player option

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When Dwyane Wade left Miami — the only team he had ever played for, the one where he won three titles — to come home to Chicago, he wasn’t thinking of being one-and-done. Already in his mid-thirties (35 as you read this), he was looking to finish his career as a Bull, however long that may be.

But Wade left himself an out, signing a two-year, $47 million deal with a player option for the second year.

With the Bulls 22-23 and barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the East, would Wade consider opting out and testing the free agent waters again? He told Nick Friedell of ESPN that how this season plays out will have a significant impact on his decision.

“I wouldn’t lie to you and say no (this season won’t impact his decision),” Wade said. “Of course. I can’t play this game forever. I just turned 35 and I have a number in my head how long I want to play. At the end of the day you want to be in a situation where it’s a competitor situation, whatever the case may be. It’s tough in this league as well because a lot of that also depends on how much money you’re willing to make. It depends on what city you’re willing to be in. So it’s a lot of variables to that, but no question about it, what happens throughout this year, as I go into my summer, I’ll definitely take a look at it. I take my career seriously and where I am and where I want to be. And I will do the same thing this summer.”

Come this summer, both Wade and the Bulls have decisions to make.

For the Bulls, in the wake of the Rajon Rondo signing that hasn’t panned out, they need to decide what kind of team they are trying to build around Jimmy Butler. Fred Hoiberg was handpicked by management because of his modern offense — spacing, shooting, ball movement — then that same front office goes out and gets Wade and Rondo, two guys opponents will let take jumpers all day. Is Nikola Mirotic part of that future? Bobby Portis? The Bulls need a long-term vision, but if they keep Wade at his current price then it likely is more stop-gap measures. Just hopefully ones that can shoot the three.

For Wade, he has to ask what he wants out of his final few years in the league. Chicago is not a contender and will not be for a few years at least. Does Wade want to stay in his hometown and be part of what is being built around Butler? Or, does he want to take less money to chase another ring with a contender? At this point in his career, what matters most to him.

My guess is Wade is back with the Bulls next season, whether he opts in or signs a new deal. And the Bulls will make more stop-gap moves. That’s what history suggests.

Grizzlies’ getting their own D-League affiliate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies will own and run the NBA Development League’s newest team starting with the 2017-18 season.

The Grizzlies and the NBA Development League announced the expansion team Tuesday.

The newest D-League team will play in Southaven, Mississippi, which is just 20 miles south of Memphis. The arena already hosts the Mississippi Riverkings in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The move makes the Grizzlies the 19th NBA team owning and running a D-League affiliate, which expands the league to 23 teams for the upcoming season.

The Grizzlies have been affiliated with the Iowa Energy, whom were just bought by the Timberwolves. Memphis eneral manager Chris Wallace says the D-League team will practice at the Grizzlies’ facilities at FedExForum and allow Memphis to best develop young players.

Report: Kyle Lowry’s Philadelphia area home was burglarized by jewelry heist ring

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry reacts after making a 3-point shot against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Toronto Raptors won 123-114. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
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Kyle Lowry is a gold medalist from Rio and a Toronto All-Star (and should be again this season), but at heart he is a Philly guy. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, and went to college right there at Villanova. He still has a home in the area.

A home that was burglarized recently, according to a report at CBS Philadelphia, who talked to local police.

A multi-million dollar jewelry burglary ring is cracked in the Delaware Valley as investigators are trying to recover all the jewels stolen from victims, including an NBA star player….

The Main Line home of Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry was hit, police sources said.

Responding to an email from CBS3, a spokesman for the Raptors said Lowry, a former Villanova basketball standout, politely declined comment for this story.

Lowry was far from alone in being targeted, and a couple of people who fell victim to the ring lost more than $500,000, according to the report.

The crew had ties to a shop on “Jewelers’ Row” in the city, which served as a front for the ring tried to move millions of dollars in stolen jewelry, according to the report. Wasim Shazad, the owner of the shop, was arrested but is now out on bail as he moves through the legal process.